No more Manson family values

by Sophia Vilensky


I can’t remember when I really got into the Manson family, but it was either when Megan Draper wore that shirt on “Mad Men” or when I had time to research while my mom made me shield my eyes from the Because scene in “Across the Universe.”

While surrounding lore is certainly interesting, the amount of romanticized interest in the the cult is problematic. This dark and dreamy outlook is something that I’ve no doubt contributed to throughout the years, but it’s important to realize that these people were no more than impressionable youth caught in a storm of hallucinogens and horrible decisions.

That is not to say the crimes can be rationalized. What happened was awful and almost unimaginable to today’s youth (most family members were high school age at the time of the crimes), yet more than 50 years after the fact fascination has only grown.


I’ve recently gone back into research mode, but I’ve been taking a different approach to my preoccupation. Enter John Waters and Emma Cline, two quite different folk who are here to mold your mindset to a more realistic (yet still interesting!) approach to understanding those behind helter skelter.


“The Girls” by Emma Cline came out in June, and it has been topping bestseller lists and cool girl’s Instagram feeds ever since. “The Girls” is a glimpse into the fictitious mind of 14-year-old Evie Boyd who finds herself at “the ranch,” drawn in not by Charles Manson doppelgänger Russell, but by one of his devotees, Suzanne. As you find out in the first few pages of the novel, Evie didn’t assist with the murders. Nonetheless, she’s aware that she could have. After surfacing from my day and a half haze of powering through the book I’m scared I could have too — the allure of a close knit sisterhood and a type of femininity far from the pages of Cosmo is still prominent.

This Vogue article on Cline is a good place to start while you wait for the book to be available at your library or in paperback.

“Leslie” from one of my favorite essay collections, “Role Models” by cult filmmaker John Waters, is another great resource for some (non-fictionalized this time) Manson girl insight. In the chapter, Waters examines his relationship to dear friend Leslie Van Houten (the pair is pictured above), who was recently released on parole after receiving a life sentence for her involvement in the 1969 LaBianca murders.

Van Houten knows what happened was horrible; she’s had many years to think about it. Waters’ writing is smart, an ode to the woman and not the crime record.

The essay is about 50 pages long — the perfect length for sitting at a bookstore before you decide to purchase the whole book (you should).